Blu-Ray wins format war – and should we care?

3 Mar

March 3, 2008

By Geoff Meeker

Back in June of 2006, I wrote about the format war between Toshiba’s HD DVD and Sony’s Blu-Ray, which were both trying to win the market for high definition DVD.

At the time, my advice was to not buy this technology until a clear winner emerged, or the industry actually got together and agreed on a universal format.

As you probably know, the battle is officially over. Last month, Toshiba announced that it was pulling the plug on HD DVD. The format’s fate was sealed just a few weeks earlier when Warner Bros. announced that it was dropping HD DVD and going exclusively with Blu-Ray.

Sales for both formats were sluggish, partly because consumers were waiting for a clear winner to emerge. According to an article in “Computerworld”, of the 32 million DVD players sold in the U.S. during 2007, only a small percentage were high definition players. Blu-Ray accounted for 578,000 units and HD DVD just 370,000. And in the week after Warner announced it was dumping HD DVD, Blu-Ray scooped up 94 per cent of hardware sales.

If you are one of the unlucky few who purchased the wrong technology, you can take some heart in Toshiba’s commitment to continue servicing and supporting its HD DVD players. Alas, the supply of new movies will come to an abrupt end.

Some commentators have said that HD DVD should have won the war because it was first to market, cheaper and more compatible with regular DVDs. Others say Blu-Ray was better because it has greater memory capacity.

The real question is, should we even care? Is there another reason – besides the format war – why sales for both have been so sluggish?

I think there is. As one who is inclined to adopt early technology – when it offers a real benefit – I was only mildly intrigued by the idea of high definition DVD. I will not be buying Blu-Ray technology anytime soon, despite the fact that it would look stunning on my widescreen TV. And I suspect I am not alone.

The simple truth is, we have better, more convenient options now. Other technologies and platforms are changing the way we watch TV.  In my case, I can count on one hand the number of DVDs I’ve rented in recent months. (I used to rent two or three per week.) For the last couple of years, I’ve been subscribing to the movie network in my cable TV package. For a monthly fee equivalent to four DVD rentals, I have eight channels (two of them HD) that show nothing but movies, all the time.

The movie offering is far from perfect. There’s a fair bit of repetition and, strangely enough, there is never anything good on at 10:30 pm on a Friday or Saturday night. However, if you watch the listings during the week you can record a handful of great flicks for weekend viewing.

My cable provider, Rogers, also has a Movies on Demand service, which allows you to view movies and other programming whenever you like, for no charge. And when we have a yen for something more recent, there is always Pay Per View, which is better than DVD rental because you can record the movie and watch it again (not to mention the freedom of never having to return the DVD to the store).

Cable TV has evolved its service offering to the point that I rarely rent DVDs. When they eventually switch all programming to high definition, I won’t need DVDs at all.

Then there’s video downloads on the Internet, which are already popular, if mainly for small-screen play. It’s probably just a matter of time before high definition downloads are commonly available on the ‘Net, and easily transferable for big screen viewing. I foresee a day when tens of thousands of movies will be available on demand, in high definition – through cable, the Internet, or both – for the price of a DVD rental.

It may be that Blu-Ray is already on the slippery slope to obsolescence.


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